9 Unexpected Signs of Stress

October 1, 2019

Stress can reduce our quality of life in unimaginable ways. It is a human experience and one of the few things that bond us all together. We all experience stress. The magnitude of those stressors are different, but it is something we can all relate to. Even infants feel stress as they cry waiting for their next feeding or cry to be held. Until they have attached securely and know that those next meals and snuggles are coming, they scream out in stressful fear that they might not come.

There are some universal signs of stress that we can likely all relate to. These include anxiety and compulsive worrying thoughts. Sleepless nights are one of the most common. So many of us know what it is like to toss and turn while worrying about tomorrow’s interview, how we will make our rent payments, or an issue with our spouse or children. It is expected that someone’s sleep may be disrupted with such anxiety-provoking life events occurring.

There are more subtle and unexpected signs of stress that we should beware of. If you notice these feelings or experiences, you may want to check in with yourself or a loved one if you notice them for that person. Ask yourself how stressed you are and what you are doing to combat the stress. Make sure you develop a self-care plan that can adequately address these needs.

Difficulty learning new information

Stress does funny things to the brain. We need adequate learning environments to be able to retain and hold new information. If our focus in on whatever is stressing us out, it is less likely to be able to learn.

From a survival perspective, this makes sense. Why would we worry about learning new information if our wellbeing is at risk or we are under attack? The body doesn’t always know how to prioritize stress. It may feel as though we’re under attack when we are just stressing about a deadline. It’s not able to differentiate between the two.

Any significant stressor the body interprets as life-altering and so it isn’t able to focus on new incoming information because its focus is on survival.

Rashes, itching, or hives

While stress does funny things to the brain it also does funny, and often uncomfortable, things to the body. Many people react to stress by having skin issues. This can include rashes, itching, and even raised bumps that form hives. While Benadryl can often reverse the effects and calm the body, it is better to have effective coping skills to manage the stress and thus prevent such breakouts.


Stress reduces our immune system. Many people who are working multiple jobs and going to school or are single parenting notice that their immune system is decreased. They get every cold that goes around the office and every major flu. This can just lead to more stress.

For example, a teenaged single mom who needs to receive a full paycheck but who gets sick and cannot go to work may just become more stressed because she’s worrying about paying her bills or who will help her children with their homework.

Most people don’t have time to get sick from stress. This can be a particularly painful side effect.

Lack of punctuality

Running late occasionally is normal. We have all been guilty of it. However, repeated and consistent tardiness may be a sign that you’re not doing well. You may be overloading yourself with activities and find it hard to focus on simple tasks at hand. Stress could be directly impacting your ability to get out the door on time.

For example, people who chronically lose their keys are probably not in a routine of putting them in the same place every day. It is worth wondering why they don’t have that routine down. Is it because they are lazy and just don’t want to establish a routine? Probably not. It is more than likely because life is busy and they don’t feel completely in control and they have hundreds of thoughts running through their mind when they get home. The last important thought is to hang the keys up.

Most people believe that they can multitask well, but research shows us that multitasking is simply reducing the presence we have in multiple areas, thus making us less effective doing those things. We’re better off to do one thing mindfully and then transition to the next when we’re ready.

Grinding teeth

Teeth grinding could be our subconscious way of beating the stress out of us. Many people who are stressed report teeth grinding. Some have dental issues because of it. When the body goes to bed stressed it doesn’t just stop being stressed. This can lead to us grinding our teeth at night when we don’t even know it.

We could also be sitting in meeting grinding our teeth without noticing it. A coworker has to bump us to stop that behavior.

It is worth paying closer attention to the physical sensations that you feel when you are stressed. Often times you are holding tension in various areas of the body and if we can release that physical tension then perhaps some of the mental stress will burn away as well.

Excessive behavior or reckless behavior

When we are stressed we often have a difficult time finding joy in life. It is human nature to want to find a quick solution to the lack of joy. Different people will find different quick answers to create joy but many will find answers that don’t actually, in the long run, contribute to their health or happiness.

Good examples of this are substance use behavior. It makes sense that after a stressful day someone wants to have a beer. That one beer may turn into five, though, and that one day may turn into several days. This can lead to binging behavior and substance use disorders, which in the long run do not serve us.

Other people will find excessively purchasing items, gambling, or engaging in risky sexual behavior to be a sufficient answer in the short-term. Most people will not find this to be a great long-term solution.

Regardless of the exact behavior that is maladaptive, finding a solution to cope is going to become necessary at some point. If you are a loved one and notice someone engaging in reckless behavior, kindly point it out to them. The following language may help:

“I have noticed that you have been doing __________ lately and I am worried about your health and happiness. Is there anything I can do to help you feel better?”

Reduced productivity

Similar to the stressed child who will be unable to learn, stressed employees will produce less work. When I was in graduate school I will never forget the day that I forgot to prepare a presentation for a meeting that I promised I would. I had spent so much time worrying about midterms that I was no longer emotionally or cognitively present at work. I was just going through the motions.

Missing that presentation was mortifying for me. It makes sense looking back that I did because I was stressed and I wasn’t coping well. I had normalized the stress in my life but I never expected it to turn up in my work.

Back pain

As mentioned earlier, stress turns up and finds home in the body. We hold our muscles tenser when we are anxious, upset, and fearful. This can turn into tension headaches, body pain, and especially back pain. If you haven’t been to a chiropractor, it is common to show up around 5:30 pm and see men and women in corporate work outfits. They are on their way home from their stressful jobs and stopping for an adjustment and massage. This could be because they have high-stress careers.

Back pain is especially difficult to manage because it impacts many other areas of our body. Stretching and moving your muscles more may help but ultimately reducing stress if one is able to will be of great help.

Excessive sweating

This is my least favorite unexpected sign of stress. Sweating typically leads to me feeling more stressed and anxious because I worry other people will notice. Routine stress can cause routine sweating. It may be common for us to sweat during big presentations or even interviews, but day-to-day sweating can be uncomfortable. This may be a reason to see a doctor, who may even refer you to a counselor.

So I’ve got some of these stress symptoms. What do I do now?

Teen and Parent | Stress | Hillcrest

Just because you acknowledge that your body is reacting to stress doesn’t mean that your journey ends here. You do not have to accept stress as a part of your daily life. Sure, it will happen occasionally because there is so much that is out of our control, but we should have effective ways to cope so that we can reduce our stress.

Daily meditations can be very helpful in setting the mind and body up for health. Just five minutes a day spent meditating is found to improve our mental health and wellness. There is no reason not to meditate when we have access to free applications such as Calm and Headspace. Both are worth checking out and practicing.

Going to therapy may be the right next step for you. Only you can decide this. Therapy is incredible when you’re stuck. You may be noticing that life isn’t feeling very comfortable and you are having day-to-day stress that is impacting your health, work, and relationships, a therapist can help. They will help you identify some of the underlying reasons for your stress and develop more effective tool for coping. Be prepared that counseling often makes things worse before it makes them better. This is because you cannot address stress in isolation. It is often related to traumas that we have long repressed or situations we don’t want to think about. To make improvements means we must address ourselves holistically and this can be painful. A good therapist will walk you kindly through the process and provide support every step of the way.

Developing a self-care plan with your therapist may be one of your best bets to reducing stress. Maintaining that plan will be necessary for your long-term health. My personal self-care plan includes regular exercise, a weekly date with my partner, a night once per week to myself, getting my nails done, going to therapy every week, dog walks, and doing a face mask while watching my favorite Netflix show. This won’t be your self-care plan. It will likely look very different.

Your self-care plan should be a combination of things you enjoy and things you need. When we are engaging in activities that we love, we often feel less stress or more prepared to handle the stress. Additionally, there are things we need as well. This includes taking our medications, exercise, eating well, and any other needs you may have.

Regardless of the type of stress you are experiencing or the way that it manifests itself, developing a plan to reduce and combat stress will greatly help you. It may not happen overnight and it may take adjustment as time goes on, but planning for wellness will hopefully lead to your wellness!

If your teen is struggling with a mental health issue and struggling with stress, your first step towards helping them to recover is speaking to their doctor. Based on a thorough evaluation and assessment, it may be determined that the best option for treatment for your teen is at a therapeutic treatment center like at Hillcrest.

At Hillcrest, your teen will learn the necessary skills and techniques to create healthy coping mechanisms to help them navigate and manage their symptoms, stressors, and triggers associated with their mental health issues.